Yesterday Bryan Preston covered Barack Obama’s remarks on the Falkland Islands at the Summit of the Americas in Colombia. When asked about Argentina’s claim to the British-ruled islands, Obama said the U.S. would continue to observe a “neutral” stance, adding that “this is not something that we typically intervene in.”
Taking a leaf out of the Sean Penn guide to diplomacy, he also attempted to refer to the Islands by their Argentinian name, Las Malvinas. Obama’s response attracted little interest here in Britain, and while the Smartest President Ever mistakenly called the islands the Maldives, I didn’t find Obama’s intention to use “Malvinas” particularly troubling. While it’s possible to interpret that particular remark as supporting Argentina, perhaps he was simply trying to be diplomatic by using the Latin American name in the presence of Latin American hosts; it’s likely that if he mentioned the islands during a speech in Britain he’d refer to them as the Falklands.
I do, however, have a problem with Obama framing America’s position with regards to the Falklands dispute as “neutral.” This appears to be a different thing to supporting the status quo, which is British sovereignty over the islands so long as that remains the wish of the 3,000-plus inhabitants.
As I’ve written previously, it’s unlikely that Argentina will move against the Falklands in the foreseeable future; Britain has beefed up its military presence on the islands considerably since the 1982 war, which saw it retake the islands after Argentina mounted a surprise invasion. Argentine president Cristina Kirchner’s current rhetoric on the sovereignty dispute is designed primarily to distract attention from looming economic problems at home.
But Obama appears to be suggesting that if Argentina did attempt to invade the islands again, he would maintain American’s “neutral” stance, and that can only give encouragement to the Argentines and their rabble-rousing leader. Kirchner apparently fancies herself as Hugo Chavez in drag, and with Venezuela backing Argentina’s claim to the Falklands she seems determined to pursue the Chavez model of belligerence abroad and ruinous socialism at home, having just announced plans to nationalize the country’s largest oil and gas company. Re-election for Obama in November would ensure Kirchner a sympathetic ear for further post-colonial whining, and likely encourage further trouble-making.